In their last 10, the Griz are 6-4, and although we aren't stringing together wins back to back, the team is playing much better as a whole, and a run seems to be inevitable as soon as Marc returns. Of note was the OT thriller against the Spurs in which the Grizzlies showed great heart, our wins against the higher seeded Suns (revenge for their wins last year), and a blowout of Detroit.
A few notable factors have emerged during this run, which will hopefully lead to a push into the tightly contested Western playoffs (we need to string some wins together from here).
Wing Athleticism Appears To Have Been Found
I'll get onto James Johnson after Courtney Lee, who we acquired in a deal for Jerryd Bayless and a second round pick, along with some cash money from OKC or something random like that. A knockdown shooter who can handle the ball moderately well is one thing, but Courtney Lee adds defense and solid rebounding on the court through his athleticism. Off the court, Lee is a class act (thanking Jamaal after his first game for helping him) who seems to embody the heart of this team, and don't forget he played a role as a rookie in that Dwight Orlando team that made the 2008 Finals.
I will miss Jerryd, but he did play better as a shooting guard rather than the primary ball handler, and Lee is a huge upgrade in these areas, and although he did come as a premium, I think it's safe to say that the Front Office have concluded their search for wing athleticism. His shot chart is just nice to look at.
Now onto James Johnson (Double J is great, I kinda like Jimmy Johnson as a joke nickname, Bloodsport is a bit too much, why don't we just call him Johnson?) who's emerged as a big contributor over his last 12 games, defending a range of positions, rebounding strongly, scoring efficiently enough and blocking like 20 three point attempts. Johnson has a fire that the team has needed and seems to have thrived off, coming off the bench he repeatedly ignites a spark in the team's energy.
Johnson has guarded both Melo and Harden (although getting 3 back to back to back fouls on both), and is a defensive beast, racking up 1.3 blocks and steals (2.6 stocks) in 22 minutes of action so far. He's rebounded well (4.7 a game and 1 double double already), created his own shots on drives, shot the 3, handled the ball well except for occasional silly passes and against the Suns he showed some post up potential. So where the hell did this guy come from?
Drafted by the Bulls at 16th in 2009, he's admitted to some attitude problems (thinking he was better than he was) which are probably the reason for his journey around the league (Raptors, Kings, Hawks and Iowa Energy/Rio Grande Vipers). Strangely enough though, he hit a game winner for the Kings last season, and we all know how big he came up against the Spurs. Part of me was incredibly worried when he ignored Conley twice for his drive and three pointer, but meh, if they're going in then why complain. With these two new recruits, surely our search for some wing athleticism has come to a close.
Mike Conley Wants to be an All-Star
He has been so good in this stretch. A strange stat goes that when he scores more than 20 the Griz are now 2-8, but I put that down to him having to pick up the slack for torrid team efforts (Bulls, T-Wolves), poor early season from (Mavs, Pelicans, Raptors), and him lifting his game against the best (Spurs), so hopefully this trend doesn't continue. But anyway, Conley has scored 30 pts the past two games, having his way over Tony Parker and Goran Dragic (okay maybe its not the most incredible feat). Over the past 5 he's scoring 22pts on 50% from the floor and from three, and he's come up huge in the clutch against the Spurs and Sun. After scoring 9 in the final 1:35 to force OT against the Spurs , here's how the match-up against the Suns ended for the Griz (from Commercial Appeal):
3:31: Conley 20’ jump shot.
2:43: Conley 3 PT 24’ step back jump shot.
2:09: Davis 14’ jump shot (Conley).
1:40: Johnson 3 PT 23’ jump shot (Conley).
1:18: Conley 1 FT good.
1:18: Conley 1 FT good.
34.1: Conley 1 FT good.
34.1: Conley 1 FT good.
Get him in the All Star game Grizzlies fans!
Ed is Going to Get Paid
Ed Davis has been great these past 10 games, averaging 10 pts and 6 boards on 60% shooting. Free throws are still a bit suss, but his mid range jumper is looking nice, his post moves are working well and he's finishing pick and rolls perfectly (sorry I don't have a subscription to Synergy for stats - maybe he's still first in pick and roll plays?). Maybe the best thing about his game is that he's only recorded one negative +- in the last 10 games, whenever he's come on, he's had a positive impact on the game. Hopefully we can figure out a way to pay him and keep him.
Coaching is Improving
Blowouts of Detroit and Denver showcased the Grizzlies new offensive mindset, but Joeger has also made some effective substitutions (getting Leuer in early against the Spurs so they couldn't quadruple team Zbo), great play calls in the clutch against the Spurs and Suns, and the effort has been great. The only downside still has been our defense, particularly on the perimeter, but hopefully when Marc returns everyone won't have to over commit on drives, leading to kick-outs and easy threes for the opposition.
Back-up Point Guard is an Issue
It's only been two games, but Calathes hasn't looked good. His vision is great, his defense is alright, but his handle needs to be tighter, his shot needs to be much better and he needs to get some more bulk on him. The offseason talk of moving the ball up quicker falls apart when Nick has to dribble it up, as it can take 8 seconds for him to get up and initiate a set. Most of the time the other guard just downright overplays him, and he doesn't move the ball until it leads directly to an assist, not the best way for an offensive possession to play out. I believe we have a few options, and we need to pick one as Calathes in this role isn't working at the moment.
Internal Change : Don't play Calathes as the initial ball handler bringing it up. We could have Johnson,Lee or Prince bring the ball up and feed Calathes on a cut or wrap, making it easier for him to penetrate and dish. Obviously this might not be successful as its one more off ball option on the perimeter that can't shoot, but it would allow him to play around the rim feeding others and hide his ball handling/strength that is a bit of a weakness at this point. I hate seeing Grizzlies moving around so I do kinda prefer this option even though it may not be the best.
Trade : Probably the most successful route, we could find a steadier option than Calathes fairly easily in the trade market. I like thinking of players in bad situations that could be a sneaky good pick-up, the Luke Ridnour types, Will Bynum types that wouldn't be too hard to acquire in a deal. (My favourite fantasy trade that might not even solve this issue is CJ McCollum for Koufos, as the Blazers could use a big man to anchor the second unit's defense, and in a perfect world would give us CJ and a big body from their team)
Bench Mob Has Emerged
James Johnson added a dimension to our bench when he arrived and Courtney Lee has done the same in the past two, but the play of Davis and Leuer has been outstanding in this stretch for the Griz. They both have stepped up their games, playing their roles within their team perfectly (Last 10 : Davis - 10pts, 6.2 boards, 60%fg / Leuer - 7.4 pts 48%fg 38%3fg)
But the bench as a whole has played great over these last 10, injecting life in the starters and over the last few games, have been finishing games. Over this stretch, Memphis is second in bench points (41), first in rebounds (18.7), first in field goal percentage (.488), whilst keeping their opposition to a .416 field goal percentage (10th but still very solid). These stats back up what we've been watching the past few games, that the Grizzlies somehow have legitimate depth at every position (point is the weakest).
Our bench has emerged from nowhere as one of the strongest in the league, which will come up huge as the Grizzlies look to compete for a playoff spot.
This stretch has been a huge confidence booster for the Griz, and has seen a few strengths burst open and shone a light on one chink in the armour. The Grizzlies suddenly look good to make a push for a playoff spot, and I didn't even mention once that Gasol's return should make us immediately better, things are looking up!